In the immediate aftermath of the Washington Huskies’ season-ending loss to Stanford in the first round of the Pac-12 Conference tournament, their coach reflected upon a season gone horribly wrong.
The injuries. The dismissal of Robert Upshaw. More injuries. Poor defensive play. Poor shooting.
“A lot of misfortune, to sum it up in one word,” Lorenzo Romar said. “A lot of misfortune.”
An 11-0 record and No. 13 national ranking at Christmastime gave way to a four-game losing streak, then a brief respite from said losing, then, on Jan. 26, the biggest loss of the season. That was the day Romar dismissed 7-foot center Upshaw, the nation’s leading shot-blocker and arguably the Huskies’ most valuable player, for a violation of team rules.
UW lost its last game with Upshaw and its first six without him, its season spiraling further and further into inescapable despair. Upshaw’s presence allowed the Huskies to defend dribble-drivers with the belief that the big man from Fresno, California, could swat any shot at the rim. In many instances, he covered up their mistakes.
And after he was booted, they kept making them. Beatable opponents lit them up. All but four of their 12 games played without Upshaw yielded a field goal percentage of at least 50 percent for the opposing team.
But Upshaw’s absence wasn’t the only factor. Fourth-year junior forward Jernard Jarreau missed 10 games following surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee. Fifth-year senior forward Shawn Kemp Jr. missed two games with a concussion, then another two with a calf strain. Star point guard Nigel Williams-Goss missed what might have otherwise been a winnable game at USC with a sprained ankle. Freshman guard Donaven Dorsey missed a game with turf toe. And incoming freshman forward Tristan Etienne left the team before the season even started.
“What happened here, I don’t know any team in the world that would have enough (big guys), in the history of basketball,” Romar said. “When everybody, something happens — almost everybody — that’s not something you can really practice for or expect.”
So the hope and promise of 11-0 turned into an unforeseeably disappointing final record of 16-15, including a 5-13 mark in Pac-12 play that ties for the worst of Romar’s 13-year tenure.
“It was tough,” said Williams-Goss, who led the team in scoring at 15.6 points a game, along with per-game averages of 5.9 assists and 4.7 rebounds. “It was not a season that any of us wanted to have. Obviously, we had some uncontrollables hit us. Some injuries. Players leaving the program. It’s just a lot to deal with on a week-to-week basis. Regardless of the circumstances, we wanted to have a better year, and it’s just unfortunate that we didn’t.”
So, will next year be any better? There’s reason to think it’s possible, but improvement might hinge partially upon whether Williams-Goss returns for his junior season. The 6-foot-4 point guard from Happy Valley, Oregon, explored his NBA draft options following a successful freshman season before choosing to return to school, and there is logical speculation that he might be do the same again this year.
“I really haven’t thought too much about next year,” Williams-Goss said Wednesday after the loss to Stanford. “All I’ve been focusing on is finishing the season as strong as possible. (I) really wanted to come out here and try to extend our season. Thought we had a good chance to do it tonight and just didn’t get it done.
“My focus was 100 percent on the season. There was no reason to look past the season when you have games still to play. I try to go out every night and play to the best of my abilities and give my team the best chance to win. And when you’re thinking ahead, you’re not as focused or locked in as you need to be.”
If Williams-Goss returns, he would likely pair in the backcourt again with Andrew Andrews, who will be a fifth-year senior and said Wednesday that returning to UW for his final season of eligibility is “definitely my goal.” Andrews’ emergence in the second half of the season was one of the Huskies’ few bright spots during that time — over their last 11 games, he averaged 19.3 points a game and shot better than 40 percent from 3-point range. He finished the season averaging 15.0 points a game.
The addition of a six-man recruiting class that includes 6-5 Rainier Beach guard Dejounte Murray, considered a top-40 recruit by Scout.com, could bolster UW’s backcourt even further.
The Huskies lose two seniors — guard Mike Anderson and Kemp, both starters — and add three guards (Murray, former Rainier Beach and Clover Park star David Crisp and Eastside Catholic guard/forward Matisse Thybulle), and a trio of frontcourt players (Marquese Chriss, Devenir Duruisseau and junior college transfer Malik Dime) as part of their recruiting class. The projected roster, as currently constructed — and at this time of year, such things should always be assessed with a grain of salt — will use each of UW’s allotted 13 scholarships.
Regardless of how young UW’s core will likely be in 2015-16, a postseason appearance will be the expectation. Four consecutive seasons without advancing to the NCAA tournament has placed increasing pressure on Romar to guide the program back there.
“Once I move forward, I’m not looking back, that’s for sure,” Romar said. “… There will come a point when we’re going to move (on), and when we move forward, we’re going to really move forward.”
After what happened in 2014-15, they will do so gladly.